“Uh… excuse me. Could I ask you…where do you get your ideas?”

Ah. My favorite question.

I love these writers’ conferences, though I don’t have time to attend many anymore. There are always plenty of interactions like this: insecure, inexperienced writers of all ages, shapes, and sizes looking for help. I was like them once, not such a long time ago. Being the one asked for advice still gives me a thrill. Who knows what these fledgling writers might become, given the right kind of encouragement?

The drab, somewhat scruffy older gentleman in front of me is giving off waves of both insecurity and eagerness. Just the kind who needs the benefit of my experience and skill. I’m glad I didn’t skip this conference after all.

“Sure, Gene,” I say, with a quick look down at his name tag. “Why don’t we get out of this noise?” I gesture at the conference room, which is filled with dozens of people, all talking at once.

I study the bland little guy as we walk down the hallway and into a smaller room at the end of the corridor. He’s almost a foot shorter than I am, and I can see the wisps of colorless hair smeared across his pinkish scalp. His tweed jacket is pilling, and there’s a stain on his shirt. His tie looks like it’s older than I am. His watery gray eyes shine, probably with the anticipation of getting a useful tip from a real, published author. I’m glad he approached someone sympathetic like me. I know what those other writers are like.

“Why don’t you tell me a little about the kind of writing you do,” I say. The poor slob is sweating with nerves, and I figure it will help if he calms down a little. He launches into his life story, starting with his birth sixty years ago in Canton, Ohio. I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but after a minute or so I cut him off. After all, I don’t have all day.

“Alright, listen carefully, Gene. This is by far the most important thing you need to know if you’re going to be a successful writer.”

The guy’s quivering with excitement. I guide him to a chair before he falls over.

“Okay, Gene. You want to know where I get my ideas? I bet you’ve asked lots of people that question, right? And I bet no one gave you a straight answer. Nobody wants the secret to get out.  You have to promise not to tell anyone. Not your wife, not your bartender, no one.” His sagging cheeks flap as he nods his agreement.

“Okay, then. Here goes.” I start pacing back and forth while I tell him everything: about how there are idea auctions just for writers that are scheduled on random dates and open only to a select few. I explain that they are always held in a different location, which is only announced on the day of the event. I lower my voice a little as I describe the cheating and the backstabbing of the bidding wars, and I even tell him about the time I almost beat out Lawrence Block for a particularly good idea back in 2005.

“When’s the next auction? How do I get invited?” he whispers, an avid look on his face.

I look over my shoulder, already knowing no one is there. “I can’t tell you that,” I whisper back. “Really, I’ve said more than I should already. In fact…now that I’ve told you…”

I pull the garrote out of my pocket.

Amy Samin has never attended a writers’ conference. If she ever does, she knows what not to ask.

Copyright © 2019 Amy Samin. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.